I have the dimmest of memories of being bussed there as a schoolboy to see some Boy Scout ‘Gang Show’ (I was not a Boy Scout). Between then and the evangelical church, it was home to the BBC Concert Orchestra. I presume it is the evangelical church who have painted the wildly ornate interior blue and white. It is slightly odd.
The African Comedy Night has been running monthly for the last five years (though only two months in Golders Green). It gets an audience of around 400-500.
On the bill last night was Zimbabwean Glaswegian Sean Reid.
His father is from Glasgow; his mother is from Zimbabwe; he was born in Zimbabwe but left when he was six; then they moved to Mauritius, Nigeria and then to Glasgow when he was aged 12. His dad is a contractor for BP.
Sean is 32 now. I talked to him when he came offstage last night.
“Zimbabwe-Mauritius-Nigeria,” I said. “You were brought up as a British ex-pat.”
“Me and my friend have a term for it,” said Sean. “We call ourselves Afro-pean. But I think as long as you have enough time to get part of the culture, it’ll never leave you as such. I can still understand Shona though I understand more than I can speak, because I don’t get to speak it that often.
“I spent just as much time in Zimbabwe as I did in Nigeria and I feel just as influenced by Nigeria as Zimbabwe, if not a little bit more, because I was more aware.”
“And in Scotland?” I asked. Sean has a pure Scots accent.
“People think I’m Pakistani,” he told me. “because we’re not that culturally aware in Scotland.”
“Is there an African scene in Glasgow?” I asked.
“There is a minor one,” said Sean. “It happens every now-and-again. The turn-out is quite good because there’s a lot more black people up there now.
“This year I’m putting on a gig for Black History Month in October, just to bring things a bit together, because black comedians aren’t really coming up to Scotland and it’s a shame because there IS a market for it but no-one’s really capitalising on it.”
“Is that market just in Glasgow though?” I asked.
“No,” replied Sean.
“There is an unexplained outbreak of Russians in rural Perthshire,” I said.
“It’s weird for us,” said Sean. “because there’s a lot of Poles and Ukranians about – Where the hell are all these white people coming from?”
“Edinburgh is unsettlingly white,” I said.
“Edinburgh is English,” said Sean. “they don’t speak anything that sounds like Scottish at all. If you go to Africa, everyone’s elocution is 20 times better than anyone here in the UK. I was in Zimbabwe last year. All ex-British Colonial places still have the grammar systems in place from when the Colonials left… so when they come here and hear the way people speak here now, they go: This is not English!”
“You were in Zimbabwe last year?” I asked. “Many comedy clubs in Zimbabwe?”
“It’s growing.,” said Sean, surprising me. “I missed it when I was there. I discovered (South African comedian) Trevor Noah this year and I’ve been speaking to some Zimbabwean comics and in September, when I’ve got two weeks off, I’m thinking of maybe going and doing a couple of things down there, just to see what the difference is. It’s just a buzz.
“Trevor Noah,” I pointed out, “is a Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winner.”
“You used to rap,” I said.
“I’ve stopped rapping and do more singing now,” explained Sean. “It’s got more universal appeal.”
“What’s the difference between music and comedy?” I asked.
“Comedy gives a different buzz. Music is like cocaine and comedy is like ketamine: they give you such different buzzes. I’m not saying I’ve ever done either. I’m just saying music and comedy are both fruit, but they are like different sorts of fruit.
“There’s something very empowering about telling a joke and people understanding where you’re coming from. There’s something totally different about singing a song and someone understanding where the lyric is coming from and having that story behind that line taking you all these different places.”
“You write your own songs?”
“Yes. I was a spoken word artist before everything. I like to play with words. I like to mess around with words.”
“That was why you were a rapper?”
“Yeah. Well, not such a good one, so that’s why I started singing. I was rapping and doing the comedy at the same time. It all kinda evolved at the same time. I’ve done (big Scottish rock festival) T In the Park on the T Break Stage – 3,000 applied and I was one of 16 who made it through in 2009.”
“Your music is online?”
“Yes, on Soundcloud. The best think to do, though, is find me on YouTube. Just hashtag Glitterballs. I’m a bit of a Richard Branson type. I’ve got dreams too. I’m going to be a multi-billionaire. I’ve got a couple of products. I’m going to tap into the Ann Summers market first: I’ve got Glitterballs and SmegFresh.”
“Smeg Fresh?” I asked.
“It’s like FemFresh but it’s for guys. I think a lot of ladies will buy it for the guys – ‘for the cheesiness of the penis’…”
There is an Infomercial on YouTube
“And then there’s GlitterBalls,” said Sean. “They’re just glittery balls. If you hashtag Glitterballs and see what happened when I went around Glasgow… some very interesting results.”
“I dunno what you guys call ‘em. We call ‘em Jakies – a person who maybe likes too much booze, takes a bit o’ drugs. This one came and whacked his balls out – twice – on cue – because we missed it the first time – and showed us his arse. He’d just shaved his balls the night before.”
“You come down to London much?” I asked.
“This is my first time in two years, but I’m looking to do a lot more stuff because, now I’m single, I’ve got a lot more free time. I’m spending much of my time masturbating, but it chafes after a while so I’m looking for new advances in my enjoyment.
“For me, I just wanna get better at my craft and I want to get that universal laugh. Without that, you’ll crutch on things you know you’re comfortable with.”
“You can’t be seen as being a black comedian,” I said, “because then you’re too ghettoised and typecast.”
“Well, then I’ll be a Pakistani comedian,” laughed Sean.
“You could be a black-white-Pakistani-Scots comedian,” I suggested. “If you could be a one-legged lesbian too, you would have the full set.”
“I’m only a lesbian when I have pussy in my mouth,” said Sean. “…No but I… Yeah, no… I’m sorry; you totally threw me with the lesbian comment… Eh…”
“Do people in England have any trouble understanding your Scottish accent?” I asked. “It seems totally clear to me.”
“No problem. But it’s really weird. A lot of people don’t seem to know there’s black people in Scotland and they’re really shocked when they hear a Scottish accent come out of my mouth. I don’t know people expect from me – which is an added bonus.
“I suppose it’s great for me in that I’m mixed-race and because I look in so many different ways, I can really take the piss out of anybody and people will allow me that little pleasure, especially if it’s something they can relate to… If it’s just straight racist, then a lynching might occur.”